The recent debt ceiling debacle and Congress's threat to
force a default has hurt America's standing and credibility as a world leader, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appeared at a joint event this morning at the National
Defense University, moderated by the George Washington University's Frank Sesno. Their discussion focused
on the future of the national security budget, but also touched on Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and the fight inside Washington over America's fiscal
When asked directly about the recent debt debate, Clinton
referred to her
recent trip to Hong Kong, where she assured world leaders that the United
States always eventually deal with its internal challenges -- after exhausting
all other options. But she said the episode had a negative effect on U.S.
"It does cast a pall over our
ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America's
interests," she said. "This is not about the Defense Department or the State
Department or USAID. This is about the United States of America. And we need to
have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for
She then went on to defend national security spending, particularly
as it relates to diplomacy and development, linking it to the U.S. rivalry with
"We can't be
abruptly pulling back or pulling out when we know we face some long-term
challenges about how we're going to cope with what the rise of China means,"
Vice President Joe
Biden is on his way to China this week and officials previewing the trip
will defend the debt deal during his
Clinton and Panetta's event seemed designed to project a
unified front between the Obama administration's top foreign policy officials ahead
of the looming budget battle, where caps in discretionary spending mandated in
the debt deal could result in huge cuts for the State Department and USAID.
"We know we are going to have to put everything on the
table. I'm not saying we should be exempt ... I'm just saying that as we look at
everything that is on the table, we have to try to do a reasonable analysis of
what our needs and interests are," Clinton said.
"If you go out to the American public and you say ‘what's
the easiest thing to cut?' it's always foreign aid," Clinton said. "We
understand that we have a case to make and there is a new way of looking at
Panetta expressed general support for a holistic approach
toward a national security budget that includes defense, diplomacy, and
development. But he didn't go as far as his predecessor, Robert Gates, in advocating a rebalancing of budget priorities away
from the Pentagon and toward the State Department.
"Our national security is our Defense Department and our
military power and also our State Department and our diplomatic power," Panetta
said. "We all know we are going to have to be able to exercise some fiscal
restraint as we go through our budgets.... What I hope this committee doesn't do
is walk away from its responsibility to look at the entire federal budget."
Panetta also repeated the
administration's claim that the debt deal would cut $350 billion from the
defense budget, a claim disputed by
experts and top
lawmakers. Panetta then warned that if the 12-person "supercommittee" fails
to strike a deal to cut $1.5 trillion in spending by Thanksgiving, triggering
an automatic $600 billion in addition defense cuts, it "would have devastating
effects on our national defense."
result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to
respond to the threats in the world. But more importantly, it would break faith
with the troops and with their families," Panetta said. "And a volunteer army
is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that
would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong
national defense we have today."
Regarding the State Department's budget, Panetta didn't advocate increases, but he did say it was "absolutely essential to our national security."
Panetta refused to comment on reports that the Pakistani
military gave the Chinese military access to a downed U.S. helicopter that was
used in the mission to kill Osama bin
Laden. He did say that they United States has no choice but to continue to
work with Pakistan.
"They have relations with the Haqqanis... there's a
relationship with the LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba].
And yet, there is no choice but to maintain a relationship with
Pakistan. Why? Because we are fighting a war there, we are fighting al Qaeda
there, and they do give us some cooperation in that effort," he said.
Clinton referred to the last scene of the movie Charlie Wilson's War, in which lawmakers
decided not to fund civilian programs for Afghanistan after supporting the Afghan
military resistance to the Soviet invasion. She said the Pakistanis have a
similar view of the United States "that needs to be respected."
partners, but they don't always see the world the way we see the world, and
they don't always cooperate with us on what we think -- and I'll be very blunt
about this -- is in their interests.," she said.
Clinton also said it was not important whether the Obama
administration actually insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaves power. There have been several reports that
the administration was planning on announcing explicitly that the Syrian leader
should leave, but then decided not to at the last minute.
"I'm not a big believer in arbitrary deadlines when you're
dealing with a complicated situation," Clinton said. "It's
not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go... If Turkey
says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the
Assad regime can ignore it."